Monday, August 26, 2019

Viewpoint in Battles

You mentioned in your article on writing fight scenes that a good action screen should be told in the character's mind (viewpoint), but there's still a part which I hope you can clarify. 

I want to write an overview of what is happening during battle.  How do I do this?

One of the choices an author makes is what kind of viewpoint to use.  In a novel like a fantasy with lots of action, the advantage of using an omniscient viewpoint is that you can give an overview of a big battle.  The disadvantage is that all immediacy is lost because you aren’t in your main character’s head.  Readers today prefer the immediacy of third or first person viewpoint because they want to feel what the character feels, see what he sees, etc.  Omniscient is more cold, and closer to a camera watching the action.

You can’t switch back and forth between types of viewpoint at your convenience because doing this knocks the reader right out of the book, and that’s one thing you want to avoid at all costs.

If you use a single viewpoint in a big fight, you'll miss some of the action because one fighter can't see everything, but you'll have intensity.  If it is a long battle and you have more than one viewpoint character fighting, you can switch to the other viewpoint character in another scene. 

If you want the reader to know about what’s going on in the big battle, you can have your character end up on a hill above the fight so he can see how the battle is going, or he can talk to another character who relays this information.  

Study novels you've enjoyed where the novelist has really drawn you in during scenes like this.  Seeing how he/she did it is a master's class in writing. 

One particular writer who does great fight scenes and battles is Ilona Andrews who writes the urban fantasy series about Kate Daniels.  It is set in modern times, but the weapons are often swords, etc.  The author is a husband and wife team, and the husband is ex-military, and it really shows in the fight scenes, not only in the action but in the strategy.

Monday, August 19, 2019

I Create the Epic Final Fight

In my last post, I talked about creating the epic confrontation between the main character/s and the bad guy/s.  Here’s two I did.    

In an unpublished novel, I had a hero who must face a were-dragon. This was the climatic fight between the two characters, winner take everything. The hero, who wants to die because his life will be a living hell, must survive for the sake of the woman he loves because her life is at stake as well.  So, I’ve got physical and emotional stakes.

I wanted him to face his weakness and fear of living as well as his own tendency to care more about himself than anyone else.

Since this is the climax of the novel, I wanted the fight to extend over several chapters, and I didn't want it to be boring and repetitive.

First, I thought about the weapons of a dragon — claws, teeth, fire, size, and wings. Considering a dragon's many weapons and ways to fight, I realized that I could divide the fight into three acts.

The first act is ground-fought and involves fire. The dragon will also use his human intelligence and voice as an emotional weapon.

The hero is tentative in his skill, and he's distanced himself from fights before so his weapon is a lance. He has a magical shield and armor which will help against the flame, but he can't survive the flame for long, and the dragon is creating a conflagration with the vegetation. The hero's uncertainty is also used against him by the dragon with his taunts until the hero acknowledges his feelings for his magic-using lover, and this allows her to bring magical rain to save him.

In the second act, the dragon has lost his fire because of the heavy downpour which has soaked the terrain as well as dousing his internal flame so he takes flight, and the two battle.

I thought about real-world flying warfare and the different ways a dragon can use his weapons in flight. I decided that the dragon would strafe the hero by using his claws to attack, and his wind in flight would be so strong the hero could barely stand to face it. The dragon would also use his weight to knock the hero down. 

After the initial fighting where the dragon uses these methods of attack, he manages to get the hero's shield which he's used against the claws and proceeds to shred him at each pass and exhaust him because of the heavy wind created by his wings. Barely staying on his feet because of exhaustion and blood loss, the hero finally retaliates by using the lance like a spear and throws it into the dragon's underbelly.

In the third act, the dragon can no longer fly because of damaged wings from the lance so he and the hero are forced to face each other in close quarters with no retreat. The hero uses a sword.

The hero now knows his own heart and has discovered his courage. He will no longer give up the fight. The dragon has discovered that he can die in this fight, and he's afraid for the first time, but he's forced to stay because the two are locked in a mythic pattern which neither can escape.

Since the battle is in close quarters, I thought about the dragon's different weapons, and the hero's battle plan. The hero must get close enough to stab into the dragon's heart, but the dragon uses his long neck, his size, and his speed to stay safe. The hero finally uses a distraction to shift the dragon's attention and stabs him.  The dragon dies.

So, the hero has won against the dragon and his own weaknesses to save the heroine and himself because of his love and courage.  An epic fight with a happy ending attached.  

Despite all the fighting, this final meeting between the hero and the dragon is more about what is inside the hero.  He fights on despite a stronger opponent as both keep running out of options, and the hero is forced to go beyond his abilities to win.  He proves he is a true hero inside and out as he faces his ultimate fear.  

And, yes, a dang dragon is one heck of a bad guy for an epic confrontation, but I’ve used a dilapidated warehouse full of old hay with the kidnapped heroine drugged, and the hero with one gun against half a dozen professional killers.  I did some thinking about what was there— birds to spook to misdirect the goons, sodden hay to shove off a loft on top of one, a hay hook suitable for gutting a bad guy, and common debris like soft drink bottles that the groggy heroine can toss to confuse the bad guys.  So, an interesting and frightening fight to the possible death in the real world.   

NOTE:  The heroines were never damsels in distress with the brave hero saving them.  Both had an equal part in the conclusion.  To simplify the explanation, I focused on the hero.  I hate wimpy heroines.  

Monday, August 12, 2019

Defeating the Bad Guy

In a novel I read recently, the heroine faces a human villain and a major supernatural villain.  She spends the novel avoiding being killed by the human villain’s minions while the supernatural villain lurks in the background waiting to destroy the world.  

Toward the end of the novel, the surviving minions show up for a final showdown with the heroine and her supporters.  A huge battle ensues, and the heroine is trapped.  The human villain reveals himself, and he’s killed within a few paragraphs by one of the heroine’s friends in an offhand manner.  That’s it.

The heroine had a longer scene with a sales clerk selling her a magical weapon than the final confrontation with the human villain, and she didn’t even take a shot at the bad guy.  He’s killed by a secondary character.

Meanwhile, the supernatural villain, a god no less, who has been the lurking big bad for the whole series, finally decides to show up to kill the heroine then wipe out life on Earth.  

He rates half a chapter, most of it a chase scene, before he’s killed in a mildly clever manner.  

If you have a villain, you have to give him a major confrontation with the main character, and it has to be long enough to give the reader a sense of anticipation, a sense of fear that the bad guy may win, and an awareness the hero is worthy of being the hero by having him fight with everything he has and then some to defeat this monster.  

Think of some of the great confrontations in the movies.  Luke Skywalker against Darth Vader.  Jake Sully and the Na’vi against the human forces and the Marine commander in AVATAR.  Thanos against the Avengers which took two dang movies for the epic confrontations.  The sheriff’s gun fight with the outlaws in HIGH NOON.  All involved struggles against the bad guy’s forces then a final confrontation between the main character and the bad guy.  All involved enough screen time to make that final confrontation epic.  

Make your own final confrontation epic.

NOTE:  Even if your novel doesn’t involve violence and the main antagonist is your character’s bitchy, controlling mother, you still need that final confrontation—that moment when the main character stands her own ground and says, “I’m not your little girl anymore.  I’m my own woman,”  and walks away to live her own life. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Problem with Avoiding Genre Formula

One of the pluses mentioned by authors who self-publish is that the author isn’t trapped by the formula insisted upon by the big publishers.  

Unfortunately, many don’t realize that this formula is more related to what the reader wants than what the publisher demands.

I’ve been reading a bunch of self-published books, and I’m seeing this problem with surprising frequency.

For example, I started a paranormal cozy mystery series.  The heroine sees ghosts and solves their murders so they can rest in peace.  A cozy mystery tends to be laid back with an amateur sleuth who uses nosiness and intelligence to figure out the murder.  Violence and the gross elements (the dead body, blood, etc.) are usually off page until the very end when the amateur sleuth faces the killer but prevails.  

In one book in this series, the amateur sleuth is heading to a Western ghost town which is now a restored tourist destination.  She falls asleep and dreams about a ghost taking her to the local town where she meets the sheriff and discovers that a little girl and her family have disappeared, probably trapped in a mine or lost in the desert, and the little girl is in deadly danger.

After the amateur sleuth wakes up, she arrives in town and discovers her dream was accurate.  The hotel is exactly as she dreamed, and the sheriff is the person she dreamed about.  People know the family she dreamed about were there, but no one realizes that the family is in trouble.  

At this point, you’d expect the amateur sleuth to tell the sheriff about the little girl in danger and to do everything in her power to find her.  She does not.  Instead, she acts like this is her standard cozy mystery and begins a very slow and casual investigation while enjoying her vacation. 

Later, she meets the owner of the hotel who knew the family had expressed interest in exploring dangerous mines in search of treasure.  The hotel owner finally realizes the family may be in trouble but won’t tell the sheriff.  The amateur sleuth then gives her three days to tell the sheriff or she will.  All this while the young family may be trapped in a gold mine or the desert without food or water.  

I was screaming at the main character at this point as well as the writer who took a suspense plot and inserted it into a cozy then failed to follow through with the changes.  Needless to say, I haven’t bought any of her other books.  

Another novel with a weird mix of amateur sleuth and suspense had the amateur sleuth trying to solve a crime while the police and FBI were attacking it from another angle so its plot resembled a regular deck of cards with a UNO deck shuffled in.  The frustrating mix not only destroyed whatever tension and mystery existed by giving away too much information, but it alienated readers who prefer suspense or amateur sleuth mysteries.  

My recent favorite disaster is a series about a new private investigator who is accidentally dubbed a paranormal investigator.  He doesn’t believe in the paranormal, but he’s more than willing to take clients to prove the answer isn’t paranormal at all. The author has branded this series urban fantasy despite having no magic/paranormal elements.  This is essentially like selling someone an Oreo milkshake that doesn’t have any Oreos in it, and the author then make fun of the reader for enjoying Oreos.  So, readers who enjoy vanilla shakes won’t buy it, readers who want the Oreos won’t buy the next.  

Romances with other elements like a mystery or the paranormal often lose sight of the romance and let the other genre drive the plot.  Part of this problem is poor branding or a misunderstanding of what a romance is.  

If you want to break the rules of a genre, you must understand them first as well as the audience’s expectations and then, very carefully, make your changes so that they make sense within the genre or genres.  Then you must brand the book as the correct genre or genre cross-mix so you find the right readers for your book.  

Those rules about formula are there for a very good reason.